Office folks! Ever caught yourself slumped over your keyboard, just dreaming of logging off and getting into the sun for some vitamin D and fresh air? I think we can all agree that office life can be soul sucking and horrendous. It may be less physically demanding than other types of jobs, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily good for you. Cubicle land can, quite literally, turn you into a mindless zombie with lots of issues. Whether those issues are physical as I have outlined before or mental, every one of us needs to be on our guard and do what we can to avoid the proverbial man grinding us down.
You may know that sitting is practically the new smoking in terms of physical effects, but what about mental one? Studies have indicated that prolonged sitting can increase the risk of mental health problems. Yikes! That’s not cool.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are lots of things we can all do to help avoid those issues from more natural lighting to plants on our desks, but you may be overlooking something even more powerful: fitness. And no, I’m not talking about running a marathon or becoming the next CrossFit champion. Think simple, fun, and doable. Exercise can actually help you relieve stress, anxiety, and even that annoying neck kink from staring at your monitor too long. Trust me, I’ve been to all those places and a quality workout makes them all disappear. Stack them regularly and stress disappears alongside the joint pain from sitting all day.
Look, I get it. Balancing work, life, and a couple of squats seems like a herculean task. You’ve got deadlines, conference calls, and probably a well-stocked snack drawer calling your name. But as someone who balances a full time, high stress job with a large family and still manages to get in regular exercise stick with me. I’m gonna help you navigate this fitness journey, one step (or lunge) at a time.
In this article, we’ll chat about why mental health needs to be at the top of your priority list, the effects of physical fitness on mental health, and how to incorporate little bouts of activity into your daily grind to supplement a wider exercise program.
Fitness is not just about getting swole or insta-ready. In fact, for most of us those are just side effects of us wanting to feel better. Instead, consider fitness to be about wellness, boosting your mood, and maybe even showing up at your twenty year high school reunion looking better than how the popular kids turned out. Life’s too short and your lunch breaks too precious to let them go by without some sort of movement. Let’s go over some of the effects of physical fitness on mental health.
The Unspoken Epidemic: Mental Health Issues on the Climb
In the race of alarming versus alarming, the rise in mental health issues among us Americans, particularly office folks like you and me, is terrifying. Trust me when I tell you, the numbers don’t lie. They might make you do a double-take though. So brace yourself, folks.
Stress: The Sneaky, Unwelcomed Guest
A whopping 83% of us workers suffered from work-related stress. That’s like 8 out of 10 of us! That’s not really surprising when you look around. Becky in accounting regularly worries about paying a bad invoice. Jim down in the mailroom stresses about getting mail to the right desk on time. And you.
You are worried about timelines, deadlines, your boss thinking you are lazy, getting to work on time, leaving work on time, the presentation you have to give to the executive board next week, your mail not being delivered to your desk on time, approving that invoice for payment, and where you put your notes from the elevator conversation you had with your boss. It can all be overwhelming.
Anxiety: The Silent Buzzkill
Anxiety, unfortunately, is not a lesser evil. Closely related to our unwanted guest above, it affects 40 million adults which is equal to almost almost 18% of the population. That’s like if every New Yorker felt anxious, plus their friends. Can you even imagine that? Well, I suppose you don’t really need to imagine that when you look at the average New Yorker.
Depression: No longer the lost cousin
Depression’s no longer the black sheep cousin you only talk about in hushed voices. It has bulldozed its way to center stage, affecting twice the number of women than men (23.4% of women vs 14.3% of men).
In an ideal world, we’d have Jim from accounting creating pie charts to illustrate all these stats and how they are increasing year over year. But alas, just imagine instead a graph so steep it’d give you vertigo.
Hello Darkness My Old Friend…
Turns out, the last few years and all the nonsense that accompanied it was about far more than a respiratory sickness, hospital wings, dancing nurses, and toilet paper brawls. According to our friends with fancy degrees, it also had a big impact on our mental health: A whopping 42% of Americans reported feeling a surge in anxiety levels when our good pal COVID-19 showed up.
Depression rates have also jumped, with 36% of Americans saying they feel more depressed than before the pandemic showed up. And why wouldn’t we? Everything has changed, and not for the better.
Remember, these aren’t just faceless numbers. This could be you, your colleague, the guy walking you through the ropes at the axe tossing joint, the bartender, or your boss. So let’s take a sec to really let that sink in.
Apparently shutting down gyms and telling people to live sedentary lives had a really negative effect on our collective mental health due to low levels of physical fitness.
Not surprisingly, this mental health rollercoaster is making it harder for us to crank out those spreadsheets and PowerPoints.
The number crunchers found out that productivity has taken a massive nosedive of 20% since everyone’s favorite houseguest (COVID-19) decided to hang around. That is on top of the productivity losses that have been happening for years prior due to things like generational changes and remote vs office work.
Employers often want to do more with less headcount because why wouldn’t they? I can tell you that isn’t good for anyone’s wellbeing. Mine included.
The Proof is in the Proverbial Pudding
While it may be hard to believe, there’s a bunch of smarty-pants scientists who have the data to back all of these stats up and tie them into your office job. Behold, two jaw-dropping facts:
Chilling on your bum for too long can lead to a whopping 25-30% higher chance of feeling down in the dumps.
Those adorable little smartphone screens that invade your personal space are doing more harm than good – they make you 1.5 times more likely to develop mental health problems.
And all the junk food and sugary beverages you consume while sitting at your desk? Various chemicals and mixtures in them, or even the calorie density of them, can cause some pretty wild brain fog, lethargy, and a feeling of being unproductive.
Exercise: The Miracle Cure We’ve All Ignored
Wake up, people. It isn’t all bad news. There is some good news and hope for you. Turns out, regular exercise is fantastic for mental health on top of your physical health. It’s not a cure all, and if you have incredibly crippling anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues please do see your doctor for health. However, for most of us exercise might just be enough to get that mentality fixed.
The Magic Link: Fitness and Mental Health
You might be wondering, how? Studies show that physical fitness and mental health are pretty cozy friends. Exercising isn’t just about sculpting those abs, but shaping up our mental health too. They have an almost yin-yang effect going on where one always impacts the other. When you feel down you don’t feel like exercising, but when you exercise you almost never feel down. It’s all a balancing act.
What do the young people call that these days, a coping mechanism? To escape one negative, do a positive.
Feel like your mood’s been on a rollercoaster it never signed up for lately? Office hours got you feeling pretty down? Work piling up? Your job destroying your mental wellbeing? Well, turns out the effects of physical fitness on mental health could provide the stability you desperately crave. Studies have shown that a brisk walk for 30 minutes could lift your spirits. Toss is some quality weightlifting and you are on a golden pathway, my man. Stack them consistently and strategically throughout the week and you are probably gonna do alright.
Au Revoir, Stress:
If that stress ball isn’t doing its job anymore, then it’s time for a new strategy. The smart folks at Mayo Clinic say that pumping some iron or a little bit of heart-racing cardio can be super effective in managing stress. And honestly, boxing is a fantastic outlet for anger as well. Plus, you don’t catch any charges and you get to keep your job if you channel that anger, aggression, anxiety, and depression into a heavy bag or sport as opposed to someone else.
Lastly, let’s talk about that attention span that seems to run away faster than people at an open bar just after the announcement of last orders. Regular gym sessions can help keep that in check and even boost brain function! Focus is greatly improved when you consistently work out because you have to work on focus to stay safe in the gym. That’s a transferable skill to other aspects of life and it shows.
Off With The Office Pounds!
Just because your workspace is more cubicle than CrossFit, doesn’t mean you’re destined for a one-way trip to extra pounds. In fact, letting yourself pile on the extra pounds while sitting at your desk does just as much to destroy your mental health as the chemicals in whatever you find in the vending machine does.
Regardless of whatever newspapers and magazines try to sell us these days, it doesn’t feel good to be overweight. Confidence drops, anxiety skyrockets, and depression can set in incredibly easily when pants stop fitting or you get out of breath walking from your desk to the printer. Long story short, office life is terrible for you physically and mentally.
I get it. You’ve got work, you’ve got kids, you’ve got to eat and sleep. There are no hours left and the gym seems about as reachable as you getting a date with whatever celebrity. It’s not impossible, though. And the effects of physical fitness on mental health are enormous.
Exercise? Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That! Or Do You…?
I am not one who generally listens to anything the government says is good for me, but to stay in the good graces of the internet the smarty-pants at the CDC say we need about “150 minutes of exercise a week” or “75 minutes of high-intensity activity.” Honestly, just like the FDA and it’s Recommended Daily Intakes this is a low ball number so you survive to work another day, not so that you thrive. In my opinion you should be getting at LEAST an hour a day of quality exercise in.
How you get in that exercise and what you do is completely up to you. Walk for an hour. Bike for an hour. Lift weights for an hour. Do burpees for an hour. Actually, don’t really do that last one. If that sounds like fun to you, please speak to a therapist. Probably a bad joke to make in an article about mental health, but I’m going with it anyways.
You don’t need an expensive gym membership or fancy equipment. Heavy sweating. Kind of sweaty. No sweat. Doesn’t matter. Just get up, get outside, and get moving.
Be the ‘weirdo’ that gets up at 4-5 am and heads to the gym. Starting the day off with negative stress is fantastic. I do this regularly.
Maybe you are someone who prefers to get in some HIIT 2 hours before bed. That works too. You go to bed stress free.
Lunchtime boxing class? That’s awesome, just make sure you take a shower before you head back to the office.
Make Every Minute Count
Transforming into a fitness enthusiast is easier than you think. Seriously. Some minor changes to how you approach the day will go miles towards putting you on a path to a better mindset. When it comes to the effects of physical fitness on mental health here are some things you can consider tossing in while at work and feel a bit better.
One-Lap Wonder: Got a date with the vending machine? Take a 10-minute detour around the parking lot first. A bit of fresh air, a few hundred extra steps, and you’ve made some vitamin d and released some serotonin from the sunshine. Both are great for you.
Stairway to Health: Elevators may go up — but they also bring down the chance of squeezing in some exercise. Opt for the stairs more often than not. A few flights of stairs get the blood flowing. Soon enough you won’t want the elevator, unless you work on some ridiculously high floor of a high rise in which case you probably already have a trainer and personal chef.
Walk-it Meetings: No, I’m not saying you should moonwalk into the boardroom. I am actually telling you not to do that. Instead, suggest a walking meeting. Stretch those legs and let the creative juices flow. Working remote? Use Teams/Zoom on your phone and walk for the meeting. This one trick is an amazing way to get in some movement, improve mood, and increase circulation.
Micro-Breaks: Sneak in short bursts of exercise during the day. It ain’t the Boston Marathon, but it adds up. Walking to the store for a snack, 10-20 pushups in a back hallway when no one is looking, air squats at your desk when your cubicle buddy heads off to the bathroom. Whatever it is, it works.
Post-Work Unwind: A 30-minute walk or jog post-work can be the great stress-buster. Of course, we all fly out the door and head to our cars to leave but if you are anything like me you will be stuck in traffic for an hour on the way home. Wandering around for 30 minutes after work is great for decompressing and working through the stress of the day AND letting traffic get flowing before you head home. Traffic is terrible for mental health anyways.
Baby Steps to Buffed-Up
Starting small but dreaming big is the secret mantra. You cannot run a marathon if you have never done a 5k and you definitely can’t break King Coleman’s record 8 Olympia wins if you never step into a gym to begin with.
Walk Before You Run: Start by parking further away or getting off the bus one stop earlier. Every step counts. Start slow and stay slow for as long as you need too. Of course, once it is too easy crank up the difficulty a bit.
Know Your Limits: Challenge yourself, but avoid turning it into an episode of Fear Factor. See the advice above. If you have never benched 300lbs, you shouldn’t start there. Get going, find your working limits, and push them but do not overdo it. Otherwise you will end up in the hospital and demoralized, with a worse mentality.
Tying the Laces: No Pain, Just Gain
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were those biceps (or that gut). So let’s recap, shall we?
Sweat Magic: The Feel-Good Outcome
The benefits of being active include:
A Mood Boost: Remember when the printer jammed? Yet again? But then the tech guy walks over and it just works because they are present and you can get your spreadsheet to the meeting on time? It’s like that.
Anxiety Assassin: Exercise can release serotonin which is fantastic for reducing anxiety.
Stress Sweeper: Exercise destroys the effects of cortisol on our minds.
Weight: This one is obvious as exercise stacked with better nutrition can help control our weight, but a healthier weight brings a lot with it including improved confidence. Great for the mental aspect.
Ready, Set, Sweat!
Alright, go forth! Give this whole ‘being active’ thing a shot. Here’s some tough-love advice:
Start Small: You don’t need to go from Netflix marathon to running actual marathons. Baby steps.
Be Consistent: Consistency, not perfection. If you exercise fairly often you are already doing better than something like 80% of other Americans.
Fun Over Everything: If you’re dreading it, you’re doing it wrong. Find that one workout that makes you forget you’re working out. Stick with that.
So there, you got it all now. You now know some of the effects of physical fitness on mental health. The only thing standing between you and your mental peace is… well, your very own will! Remember, that job might be soul sucking and depressing, but your body is a temple. Treat it like it is. Get up and move.
Let Us help You Out
At CONDITIONerd we are here to help you achieve better physical and mental health through exercise. Check out the plans we offer to our customers and see if you could benefit from working with our team. And if you have questions, you can always contact a CONDITIONerd team member.
Personal trainers, like those found here, can help guide you on your pathway towards reaching your fitness goals, whether that is getting bigger, stronger, faster, more lean, or just generally feeling better.
We can get you setup with a periodized workout plan, supplement information, and advice on nutrition to help you reach your goals.
The only thing you need is some motivation and a willingness to change some old habits.
Get into contact with us to find out what membership is right for you. In a CONDITIONerd program, you’ll be surrounded by others who can help you to get where you want to be.
Generally, our clients start to see some pretty awesome changes in 2-3 months time, some sooner.